AAS 203rd Meeting, January 2004
Session 19 Focus on Undergraduate Astronomy
Poster, Monday, January 5, 2004, 9:20am-6:30pm, Grand Hall

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[19.06] Project LITE Spectroscopy

E. Weeks, K. Brecher, P. Carr, P. Garik (Boston U.)

Spectroscopy is one of the most important tools used by astronomers to disentangle information about the universe. However, it is one of the most challenging subjects in undergraduate astronomy courses. Among the most difficult concepts for students to master are Kirchhoff’s laws, blackbody radiation, the Stefan-Boltzmann law, Wien’s law, the nature and causes of emission and absorption lines, and the relation of spectra to the underlying astronomical and physical processes producing them. Students often seem baffled by the connection between a spectrum seen visually as a color band and the same spectrum plotted graphically as intensity versus wavelength or frequency. Project LITE (Light Inquiry Through Experiments) is a software, curriculum, and materials development project at Boston University. As part of the project, we are currently developing a suite of spectroscopic tools for astronomy education. We are also assessing their effectiveness in improving conceptual understanding of spectroscopic phenomena by astronomy students at the undergraduate level. The spectroscopy component of Project LITE includes take-home laboratory materials and experiments, which are integrated with web-based software. We have also developed a novel quantitative handheld binocular spectrometer (patent pending). Here we present an overview of the Project LITE homelab kits and curriculum, the Spectrum Explorer, and the Project LITE spectrometer. The homelab experiments and the Spectrum Explorer have been tested with students in a non-science majors introductory astronomy course as well as in a School of Education course for prospective elementary school science teachers. We present preliminary results of pre- and post-instruction surveys of student understanding of various spectral properties of light both from students who used the homelab activities and the Spectrum Explorer and those who did not. The Spectrum Explorer (along with many other applets about both the physical and perceptual nature of light) can be found at the Project LITE web site http://lite.bu.edu. Project LITE is supported by Grant #DUE-0125992 from the National Science Foundation Division of Undergraduate Education. E. W. is supported by a NASA Graduate Student Research Fellowship, NASA Grant number NGT5-50482.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 35#5
© 2003. The American Astronomical Soceity.